Friday, 28 December 2018

The 2016 Conservative Party Leadership Campaign pt 3

Deja-vu - but grander. Another oak-panelled room packed with too many portly men sweating profusely in their suits, with Andrea's campaign team squashed at the back - three arses fighting for every two chairs. It was like the Cinnamon Club all over again, but this time it was the beginning of the end, not the end of the beginning

House of Commons Committee Room 14 was buzzing with excitement, booze and body odour as we nervously awaited the arrival of Sir Graham Brady with the final result. How and why was it taking them so long to count 329 votes?

Then he was there; a booming voice announcing that Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May would be going forward to the members' vote. Huge stamping and cheering all round. I was sitting with Tom Borwick, Helen Mayer and William Norton. We exchanged nervous glances; Andrea's vote had increased by 18 to 84, but she still only commanded 25% of the parliamentary party. If she went on to win the members' ballot, would she be able to command the party in parliament with so many voting against her?  It was something we had privately discussed several times; but that was someone else's problem for another time. "That's pissed on Nick Boles" I said. 

We all traipsed to another Committee Room for a meeting of the campaign team, and to hear an address from Andrea. There must have been 40-50 people in the room. And we waited, and waited...and waited, for almost an hour. Stewart Jackson MP was sitting next to me and turned his notepad to my eyeline, "I don't like this, I hope she isn't going to withdraw."  I suspect many of us were thinking the same. Helen Mayer and I were already thundering having been told we couldn't do any more work on the grid as Bill Clare wasn't available over the weekend and he had insisted on being present for any and every decision. Oh, the irony!

Finally Andrea arrived with her husband Ben and the core parliamentary team. For someone maybe ten weeks away from being Prime Minister, she didn't look or sound particularly enthused, though she spoke generously and with sincerity as she thanked her team "both within the parliamentary party and all those working so hard outside parliament, for their trust, loyalty and support."

It was then announced that we were to all have the three day weekend off to "recharge our batteries". This was when we knew something was very wrong. No campaign comes out of such a momentous day and then stalls for three crucial days, allowing the opposition to set the narrative and dominate the agenda. 

Before we all departed Andrea announced that she was returning to Northampton but was stopping en route for a major interview with one of the UK's most hard-hitting writers, Rachel Sylvester, which would be published in the Times on Saturday 9 July. It then transpired that the interview would be held without any support staff in attendance and in the cafeteria of Milton Keynes railway station. What could possibly go wrong?

(c) Rachel Sylvester / Times Newspapers

At this point any commentary becomes subjective. She was tired, even exhausted. She was distracted. The noisy and bustling surroundings of a coffee shop at Milton Keynes railway station was wholly unsuitable for such an important interview, it should never have been agreed. And it was wrong that a candidate who was in the final two for the leadership of the Conservative Party (and the final two to become Prime Minister of the UK) was not accompanied by a press officer. All of this is true.

Many others would argue that the above is immaterial. If Andrea had been elected leader and Prime Minister there would be many more occasions when she would be much more tired and the consequences of a mistake would be immeasurably higher. Therefore she had a duty to hold it together, and her inability to do so indicated she was not ready for the highest office. I can see there is truth in this too.

My view? We are all human, even politicians. We all make mistakes. Every day in almost every conversation someone will say "what I meant to say was..." and in doing so clarify a remark which had been misunderstood. I don't know if Andrea "mis-spoke", whether she made a dreadful error of judgement, whether her remarks were misconstrued or taken wholly and disproportionately out of context, but what I do know is the option to say "what I meant to say..." was not an option for Andrea. As soon as it was said, it was recorded, written and reported. 

The reason every  major celebrity, sportsperson, captain of industry and politician has a press /communications team by their side is to help ensure these human errors don't become the headlines. And at that moment, tired, distracted, exhausted - her press operation let her down. Allowing that interview in those circumstances ranks for me alongside the march on parliament as an act of folly and a poor reflection of those who were meant to support her.

Over the next three days her team continued to build the campaign infrastructure, but the energy had gone. And as the headlines from Saturday's Times began to circulate and the feeding frenzy began, any hope left started to turn into despair. 

Amongst the gloom there developed a sense of gallows humour, with the wonderful JP Floru unwittingly being the source of much of it. For over a week in anticipation of us getting into the final two, JP had been tasked with identifying a suitable house within the Division Bell for our HQ.  Various members of the team fed-in suggestions which JP would dutifully investigate, and having done so report back via WhatsApp. "Too much dust; would be havoc for asthmatics". "Oh my Lord, the stains were beyond what any normal person would consider acceptable" and my favourite, "The cat was so ugly it would frighten itself in the mirror". 

Finally a suitable property was offered in Cowley Street, a wonderful Georgian terrace which was the London home of Sir Neil and Lady Thorne; the same property used by John Major for his HQ during his "back me or sack me" leadership campaign in 1995. The Thorne's kindly offered use of the ground-floor dining room, an adjoining sitting room and the kitchen., on the understanding that the campaign would remove and store their antique furniture, pictures and silver. Cue another flurry from Floru: "can anyone lend me a spanner?"  "Where can I buy bubble wrap on a Sunday" and then, "This Georgian dining table weighs a ton, can anyone help me move it?" Several such pleas went unanswered; I have never been more grateful for being 35 miles away in Kent. Finally Tom Borwick took pity and offered assistance. WhatsApp fell silent for two hours and we all speculated what had gone wrong.  What a way to go, crushed to death in Cowley Street by Sir Neil Thorne's dining table. JPs wicked sense of humour and kindness kept us hopeful in those dark days and I wish to record how much I appreciated his company.

On the Friday night I had returned to Kent as I was hosting An Audience with Jacob Rees-Mogg, which had been in the diary for many months. At the time West Kent had around 5% of the Party's national membership - a significant block vote - and most of the local opinion formers would be present. 
I had already spoken to Jacob and he had confirmed that he was going to endorse Andrea, but he wanted a private chat before the event to discuss the mechanics. 

We agreed to meet privately in the margins for a quick chat but when he arrived there was nowhere to go; the lobby was bustling, the kitchen was packed with the catering team and the loos were busy. I saw a storeroom, opened the door and pushed him inside, before the crowds closed in. Unfortunately it was more a cupboard than a room, 3ft square with no light. Two mop buckets filled the floor space and low shelving prevented us from standing upright. So there we were, in the pitch black, with JR-M bent in double and me standing with one foot in a (fortunately empty) mop bucket, we agreed the plan. Rather than him just announcing his backing, I would arrange a suitable question which he would answer with a fulsome endorsement and I would then "live tweet" his position. 

Having agreed the plan we tried to leave the darkness of the cupboard with a degree of dignity, only to find a large and curious crowd had gathered outside, trying to hear what was going on. As the door opened they all started clapping. Quite what they thought we were doing in a small cupboard which was worthy of applause remains unsaid, but Jacob smiled graciously and started shaking hands as if it was a regular occurrence.    

That weekend the campaign was close to meltdown, with Rachel Sylvester's story running from Friday night through Saturday and Sunday and hints of further "revelations" to come. Andrea's political enemies briefed against her like fury to keep the story alive, then came rumours (subsequently found to be untrue) that she had falsified her CV. Talk about hitting a woman when she was down. However awful it was for us it must have been 100 times worse for her and her family. Even when she came out of her home to issue a statement, rather than reporting her words they criticised her fence panels and queried the value of her property. It was journalism at its worse and I wondered why anyone would wish to put themselves ans their families through such an ordeal.

For the sake of accuracy I must record that we all had wobbles that Sunday. During the course of the day, we spoke to each other about our personal positions. Could Andrea recover? Could the campaign continue? And were we each prepared to each sacrifice three months of our lives on what may well be a pointless endeavour? After much heart-searching, we all came to the same view; for as long as Andrea wanted to stay and fight, we would stand with her. My personal view was clear. Andrea had trusted me, and put her faith in me, I was not going to abandon her at the first whiff of grapeshot. It was, however, a difficult call. Some of the team were taking unpaid leave (me included) – if the campaign imploded, would our employers welcome us back? For others they had, or were about to, relinquish valuable contracts elsewhere. Still others had arranged childcare, and other domestic matters to make themselves available. The easiest thing that day would have been to walk away; none of us did.

And so, at 7.30am on Monday 11th July 2016 we all gathered in Cowley Street for the first day of the campaign proper. The mood was grim but, apart from a few furtive glances, the weekend’s events were not mentioned, as each of us focused on our tasks. Slowly the MPs started to arrive and fill the room, and we all waited for Andrea.

Needing distraction, I popped to the kitchen to make tea, and was joined by Lady Thorne:

“What are you chaps doing for lunch?”, she asked.
“I don’t think we’ve thought that far ahead!”
“When Mr Major was here in the 90s, I organised a rota of ministerial wives who each provided food. One day it was hotpot, then a casserole or a game pie”. She then
giggled: “I remember that every fifth day a Rolls-Royce would pull up and two liveried footmen would deliver a Fortnum’s hamper.”
“I suspect there will be no Cabinet wives or Fortnum’s hampers for us”, I said. “More likely a trip to Tesco Express for their “Meal Deal”!

Lady Thorne smiled diplomatically – I suspect she had no idea what a Tesco Meal Deal was.

By now, Andrea had arrived, and it was clear that all was not well. After wishing us all good morning, she disappeared into the drawing room with her closest advisers. 

Andrea Leadsom with MPs Steve Baker, Tom Pursglove and William Wragg, drafting her statement
announcing that she would be withdrawing from the leadership contest. Photo courtesy of JP Floru.  

The mood darkened. Half an hour later Tim Loughton called us to attention, and invited Andrea to speak. To a silent, and crestfallen, team she confirmed what we already suspected – that she would be withdrawing from the leadership contest with immediate effect. She informed us that, whilst the weekend press had been a factor, her main concern was the damage a ten week campaign would do to Britain’s economy. The Stock Market and the Pound were already in freefall following the referendum, and she simply did not believe that the economy would stand 70 days of the country having no leadership or clear sense of direction. This, together with her fears about uniting the Parliamentary Party, had left her with no choice but to withdraw. She apologised profusely for letting us down and thanked us for our dedication and loyalty. She then returned to the sitting room with her advisers to draft her resignation statement.

Photograph taken from Tim Shipman's book "All Out War".
The "Three Musketeers" Helen Mayer, Tom Borwick and me can be seen around the top left hand corner of the table. 

Later that same morning, on the other side of London, Angela Eagle MP was launching her bid for the leadership of the Labour Party. Conscious not to clash, and determined to get our story out first, the press statement was hurriedly drafted and emailed to the Press Association for 11am. Unfortunately, an angry senior MP, who had not been consulted on Andrea’s withdrawal, had accidentally stamped on the router, and broken it. JP was dispatched upstairs to borrow a screwdriver from Sir Neil Thorne, and we all stood around impatiently as JP attempted to repair it. By this time we had missed the deadline, and the statement had to be twice rewritten putting back the press conference. 

Despite JP’s best endeavours, the little green light of the internet refused to flicker and the final indignity was having to send Shane Frith down Cowley Street, with a laptop, to borrow access to a neighbour's WiFi connection.

Andrea Leadsom announces her withdrawal. Photo courtesy of JP Floru. 

And so, nine short days after I was offered the job of Campaign Manager, while I was standing in a muddy field in Eynsham, it was all over.

The one joy of an otherwise bleak day was to see Angela Eagle floundering at her press conference, as Britain’s media bandwagon stood up and walked out half way through her launch to record the bigger event in Westminster.

“What do we do now?”, asked Tom Borwick. “Let’s go to Rules for lunch!”, I said, “The Champagne’s on me!” On the way to Rules, in a taxi, a friend at the CCHQ Press Office sent me a text, “Well, at least you upstaged Angela Eagle…you guys did one thing right”

I never admitted that even that was an accident – thanks to a broken router – I was determined to bank one small, albeit Pyrrhic, victory.

A week after the campaign finished I received a call from Andrea’s office. There was a letter for me, and a bottle of Champagne – could I come to collect it? I was not planning to be in Parliament for some weeks, so I arranged for a friend from the TPA to collect them for me, and to keep them safe until we next met. The Champagne was welcome, and the hand-written letter was a nice touch; but enclosed with the letter was a cheque covering a substantial portion of what I would have been paid for the whole 3 month campaign. Others on the team received similar. Andrea was under no contractual or moral obligation to do this; none of us asked for, or expected, payment. The fact that she gave it so freely is a mark of her sincerity and decency, which I have never forgotten.

In the 4th and final instalment, I will review the lessons we should learn from this campaign, and how I believe the Conservative Party can heal its divisions, post-Brexit.  

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The 2016 Conservative Leadership Campaign pt 2

Agents are from Mars. Members of Parliament are from Venus. 

I have long held the view that, with one or two honourable exceptions, Campaign Directors make poor Members of Parliament, and Members of Parliament make poor Campaign Directors. And the official launch of Andrea Leadsom's leadership campaign did little to persuade me to change my mind. At this stage her campaign was being run by MPs for MPs, and I think I can safely report that most of us from outside the Parliamentary circus were grateful to avoid guilt by association. 

I arrived at the Cinnamon Club early on Monday 4 July to secure a good vantage point to watch Andrea's official launch, and was shown into a small private room on the ground floor. My first thoughts, "bloody hell, this room is far too small and far too hot."

Over the next 45 minutes probably 150 people, including journalists, financial backers, supporters, MPs, photographers, camera operators and sound recordists crammed into a room which would comfortably seat 60. 

Who booked such a small room? Perhaps the same person who thought they could launch a serious leadership campaign with a £50 pop-up banner and a lectern front which didn't show the candidate's name.  And why weren't the arriving journalists given embargoed copies of her speech so they had time to absorb and report her words? And why was the event management so poor that a route from the door to the lectern was not kept clear, resulting in the poor candidate have to push and elbow her way to the front in what appeared an undignified rugby scrum. In fact, given Andrea's pitch was that of the candidate who understood the anger that drove Brexit, and that she would not be leader for the 'rich and privileged’, who thought that the oak panelled private dining room of one of Westminster's most exclusive and expensive restaurants was an appropriate venue? Not surprisingly the press coverage raised all the above points, even from writers who should have been sympathetic to our endeavours. It need not have been like that.  Re-watching video footage of that day I am actually impressed how Andrea maintained her dignity and composure amid the chaos around her. 

After the launch it was the first formal meeting of her extended campaign team. We were originally going to meet in the same room, but no-one had checked its availability and it had been booked out for a private lunch, so we wandered around like nomads, being chased from one room to another, before the manager finally took pity and found us a table large enough for eight in the main restaurant. Which would have been fine... had there not been 14 of us. So there we sat, two to a chair or on each others knees, squatting on our haunches and looming over each others shoulders, amid the faint odour of kedgeree and the clatter of crockery, and speaking sotto voce so as not to be overheard by James Lansdale at the adjoining table. This is how and where we planned our very own Peasants' Revolt. 

Despite the uncomfortable and slightly absurd surroundings the team gathered around that table were first rate.

  • From the parliamentary party we had Steve BakerChris Heaton-Harris and Michael Tomlinson
  • Helen Mayer was there, fresh from Vote Leave. Helen was a former senior adviser at the LibDems but left having realised they were not very liberal nor very democratic. Helen was in charge of "development" and events (but not this one!) and has since become a good friend and confidante.
  • The writer, author and historian Dr Lee Rotherham was there and in charge of policy and research. The formidable Dr Ruth Lee and Shane Frith were also working on policy.
  • Tom Borwick, also from Vote Leave, was in charge of digital comms.
  • William Norton was the legal agent and in charge of compliance.
  • JP Floru was in charge of administration and office management.
  • And finally Bill Clare was her press officer and director of comms. 
With the exception of Bill Clare, I knew, liked and trusted everyone around that table.But I took an instant personal disliking of Bill Clare, who I found arrogant, semi-detached and not at all collegiate. A view I later found was shared by many of my colleagues. 

My mind wandered to how Team Gove and Team May would be planning their campaigns. I had no doubt they would have proper air-conditioned offices and enough chairs for everyone to sit on. But I was also confident we had the upper hand. We were a disparate group of driven individuals, brought together by unexpected circumstances and a shared endeavour. We were the insurgents who spoke for the heart of the Conservative membership; I believed that we could win.

Everyone around that table was involved because they believed in what we were doing, not out of loyalty to their employer nor through a sense of entitlement. And if we were going to win, our campaign had to be fought in the constituencies, not from plush offices in SW1 nor via grand stage-managed speeches surrounded by starry-eyed adoring supporters.    
Later that day I returned to Kent to plan in minute detail how we would win. I adapted my General Election war book, which has stood me well for many years; almost everything was adaptable for the campaign ahead.  

My first task was to recruit a small army of voluntary researchers, which I drew from personal contacts, friends and Vote Leave activists. They were split into four groups:

Group one (thirty people) were tasked with trawling through every parish, borough, district, unitary, county council and Conservative Association website to populate a database of key Conservative activists. Each volunteer was given two or three counties and 48 hours to report back. 

Group two (about ten people) were asked to download every set of Conservative Association accounts from the Electoral Commission website, and produce a database of where our members lived (ie, numbers in each Association) and where we had active branches. This data would be used to plot Andrea's campaign in the constituencies, ensuring her time spent matched where our members actually lived. 

Group three (again, ten people) were cross-referencing names produced by group one against various social media platforms and scrolling back to see if they were Leave or Remain.  My view was the overwhelming majority of Leave supporters would want a Leave supporting party leader.

Group four (just me and two others) were making personal contact by phone or email with those identified by Group three as “sympathetic", to ask if they would take on a county or constituency organising role for Leadsom for Leader.  Amazingly, apart from those unable to help due to health or age, almost everyone asked was willing to help and they, in turn, introduced me to other local activists who would fill in the gaps or offer additional support. 

Sadly I cannot name this amazing team; some did so on the basis of anonymity, others now hold senior elected positions within the National Convention, some worked for MPs who were supporting Mrs May, and some were not even party members but desperately wanted a Leave Prime Minister to implement what our country had voted for. They know who they are and what they helped to achieve in the first 72 hours. Thanks to this group's efforts I was able to report back to a joint meeting of Leadsom's Campaign Team on Wednesday 6 July that we had built up a database of almost 15,000 members and we had over 400 constituency organisers in place across the UK, with hundreds more potential organisers to contact. My colleagues were making equal progress within their own areas of responsibility. 

The next stage of my plan was to devise a series of tours getting Andrea out of Westminster and into the constituencies four days each week. Andrea's great strength was face to face; she is charming, thoughtful and genuinely interested in people. I was convinced the best way for her to win their trust and support was to ensure as many as possible had a chance to meet her in person. I now had the infrastructure in place to make that happen. 

I was planning for her to visit each region between two and five times during the three month campaign, with on average 4 events a day; these could be anything from a local coffee morning, a lunch, afternoon tea or an evening "town hall" style Q&A meeting in major towns. My aim was for her to meet 2,000/3,000 members a week (or 25,000/30,000 over the three month campaign). 

I believed Mrs May's campaign would be top down and her programme of activity outside London to be severely restricted by the security demands of being Home Secretary. I wanted Leadsom for Leader to be fleet of foot, spontaneous and driven by our members and supporters. Team May had been planning and plotting this bid for 10 years; I remembered being asked several years earlier by a member of her team when we invited her to address the Kent Patrons' Club "exactly how many Association Chairmen will be present?"  We had been planning and plotting for just 72 hours. I knew we couldn't take them on and win in a traditional media dominated broadcast campaign. But we could win by running the insurgent campaign and riding the Brexit wave from the constituencies all the way to Westminster.   

Thursday 7 July 2016: We gathered in Millbank Tower, Westminster for the hastily arranged Leadsom for Leader Rally. Many of us were nervous about this event, but the decision had been taken and by the time we were told, it was too late. In the end, the rally itself passed off well. The setting was fine, the backdrop had been improved and Andrea's speech was actually very good - for the first time showing depth and policy beyond Brexit. I have published a transcript of that speech HERE for those who are interested.

Then came the bombshell.

"Have you heard what they are planning?" asked Helen Mayer. 

I hadn't. 

"They are planning a Leadsom for Leader March down Millbank to Parliament Square, led by Tim Loughton and Julian Brazier. And it gets worse. Tiim Loughton will be chanting "what do we want" and the crowd is expected to reply "Leadsom for Leader" followed by "when do we want it" to which we must reply "NOW.".

I burst out laughing. I seriously thought she was joking. Then Tom Borwick joined us and confirmed it was true. "We have to try to stop it."

The three of us went to speak to Steve Baker who I think was sympathetic to our point of view, but said it was too late. Apparently the press had been tipped off and if we cancelled it would make us look weak. I remember saying very loudly, "perhaps it's better to look weak than to look fucking ridiculous."

And so we gathered outside; Helen Mayer in her Harris Tweed jacket and me in my trademark red jeans and open neck shirt, surrounded by 200 pink faced Tory boys in their best chalk stripe suits. I can do no better than to quote the Evening Standard, "they resembled a march of City Bankers demanding back their bonuses”. 

(c) London Evening Standard
To this day I do not know who thought that march was a good idea, but whoever it was turned us into a laughing stock and seriously undermined our credibility as a serious campaign and Andrea as a serious contender. And as for those of us who fight elections for a living rather than for a game, we were determined to have no part in it. We removed our Leadsom badges and t-shirts and dropped back 50 metres, a safe distance between us and the chanting mob, where we were joined by others who had more sense. 

One freelance photographer was having a field day. Having photographed the last gaggle of banner-waving Tory boys he turned his attention to us. "Is this the end of it?" he asked (meaning the end of the march). "It might well be", I replied.  

Andrea Leadsom's Millbank Rally Speech - Thursday 7 July 2016

Thank you for coming along this morning.
I’d like to begin by taking a moment to remember all those that died in the 7/7 bombings eleven years ago today.
Above all things, our thoughts and prayers are with their families on this day.
We should never forget how special our democracy is.
Over in the House of Commons, I and my colleagues are about exercise that democratic right to make an incredibly important decision.
We will be selecting two MPs to go forward to the country so that many of you can decide who will be our next Prime Minister.
That person will face enormous challenges and today I want to tell you why I want to lead the Party and this great country of ours.
You see, I am an optimist.
I truly believe we can be the greatest nation on earth.
As we show that the UK is once again open to the world and united in our new destiny, so we will expand our horizons.
Prosperity should be our goal, not austerity.
I want to spread prosperity to every corner of our country.
I want to help create more jobs.
Because, we need to hear and heed those millions of our fellow citizens who feel and fear that their country’s leaders don’t worry about them.
Those people who think that chief executives of big businesses get telephone number salaries, that bear no relation to the performance of their companies.
I say to all of those people – I am with you and I want you to share in the great future for this country.
I want to see better training, smarter working yes, and higher pay for the many.
I want to lead a nation where anyone who aims high can achieve their dreams.
Mark Carney, Bank of England Governor, was exactly right last week when he said:
“The UK can handle change. It has one of the most flexible economies in the world and benefits from a deep reservoir of human capital, world class infrastructure and the rule of law. Its people are admired the world over for their strength under adversity. The question is not whether the UK will adjust but rather how quickly and how well.”
He then goes on to say that a clear plan is needed. He’s absolutely right.
So today I want to speak to the markets as well as to the nation.
No one needs to fear our decision to leave the EU.
We will do so carefully, reassuring our European friends, and those businesses who are worrying about change
Trade must be the top priority: continued tariff free trade with the EU; continued free trade with those countries we have agreements with as a current member of the EU; and vitally, seizing the opportunity to take up new free trade deals with fast growing economies around the world.
There’s a big job to do.
But we also have to give certainty to different groups in our own country.
Certainty on migration. We want fair but controlled immigration – fair to those who are already here; and fair to all the talents across the world.
So I tell you today – I will not use people’s lives as bargaining chips in some negotiation. People need certainty and they will get it – I say to all who are legally here that you will be welcome to stay.
Certainty for farmers, universities and others who currently receive EU money. To them I say the UK government, my government, will give you the same money when we leave, and we will work with you to make more targeted use of the subsidies.
Certainty for those who want to travel, study and collaborate with others on the continent I say to them, you will be absolutely free to do so.
But a key job of our new Prime Minister will be to ensure the continued success of the UK economy.
Already we can see that the forecasts of a disaster for sterling, for equities and for interest rates have not been proven correct.
The pound is weaker, partly as a result of the markets being wrong on the result of the referendum, and partly on the expectation of further interest rate easing. But lower sterling is good for exports and makes inward investment more attractive.
It means we may import less and buy more at home.
The FTSE 100 is trading higher, and outperforming other global stock markets.
The government cost of borrowing has dropped with private sector loans available at the same rates as before.
That means the price of our state borrowing has fallen by a remarkable 40 per cent with 10 year interest rates below 0.8 per cent versus 1.37 per cent on 23 rd June.
Our valuable financial services sector has been boosted by both Barclays and HSBC bosses saying their plans are to stick with the U.K.
I will work tirelessly to reassure investors that the UK is open for business and a great place to employ people.
When we come to see the post EU figures I expect to see continued growth.
I expect to see people buying goods, going about their normal business, buying their homes and yes, enjoying a pay rise.
I will expect high standards of company behaviour, recognising their obligations to their communities and to their employees.
Mine will be a realistic but optimistic voice.
I believe we have a great future ahead of us.
We need to unite, to be positive and to make the most of our enormous strengths:
We are one of the world’s biggest economies;
We speak the worlds international business language of English;
Our contract law and our judicial system are second to none, inspiring great investor confidence;
We are part of a Commonwealth of 2.3 billion consumers, many of whose economies are growing fast;
We have historic trading links across the world, and from tourism to software to financial services to manufacturing, we have a great deal to offer.
This is the country that gave the world the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, the right to own property, the English language and the free market.
We are a remarkable people and we have so much more to give.
That is why here today I say, let us unite, and together we will write another great chapter – one of prosperity, tolerance and hope.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The 2016 Conservative Leadership Election pt 1

"Well, at twenty minutes to five we can now say that the decision taken in 1975 by this country to join the Common Market has been reversed by this referendum to leave the EU. We are absolutely clear now that there is no way that the Remain side can win. The British people have spoken and the answer is "we're out".

This announcement by David Dimbleby was my trigger to finally go to bed and try to sleep. Like most of my friends I had been up for 48 hours and this brought a thrilling end to a dream I had pursued for over 30 years. My Euro-scepticism was not new-found; I first wore a badge reading "Set Britain Free from the EEC" at the Conservative Party Conference in 1983. I had never wavered. 

As Dimbleby spoke I couldn't help but notice that my home borough, Tonbridge & Malling, one of four where I was leading the Leave campaign, appeared on the screen. 

Tonbridge had also voted Leave by by 56% to 44% - a clear margin of 12%.  In a wealthy West Kent commuter belt, packed with bankers, city workers and rural farmers, this was a personal and very significant victory against a united local political establishment determined to Remain. 

I fought and failed to hold back my tears; not just tears for joy at the outcome, but tears of pride in my fellow countrymen (and women), for defying the elites and daring to dream. I gazed out into the morning light and the words of Gilbert Keith Chesterton's The Secret People flooded into my mind, 

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest 
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.

There were many things that angered me about the Remain campaign, but none more than their constant accusation that all Leavers were "angry, uneducated, racist little Englanders looking back a halcyon days that never were."  I would like to pay tribute to the team that worked tirelessly alongside me to deliver a Leave majority of 82,000 votes in our corner of Kent. Of the ten key members of the campaign team, only three were over 50 and six were under 30. Of the wider group of perhaps 50 constituency and ward organisers, 75% were under 30. 

In fact the average age was 29 and between us we has 44 degrees, eight of which were 1 Class Hons, three read at Cambridge, three at Oxford and two each at Durham, Exeter and Harvard. We have an MBA in Business Management, two marketing directors, a doctor, a paediatric nurse, two company directors, a farmer, an army officer and a film set designer. And I can happily confirm there was not a thick, angry, uneducated racist among us. The insults which were designed to belittle and demoralise us failed; we won because we worked harder and we were better. I have never been prouder to be part of a team. 

Some of the team that delivered Leave in West Kent; not a thick, angry, uneducated racist among us!

A few hours later Steve and I packed the car with our bags and two cats and headed off for a week of rest and recuperation on our narrowboat Barleywood, on the Thames. Barleywood has been abandoned in Windsor five weeks earlier due to dreadful weather and was still there, neither of us having had a day off since to move her. Steve drove and I sat exhausted and dazed, gazing out of the window. Everything looked the same, but it wasn't. In less than 12 hours we had voted to Leave the EU and David Cameron had resigned. My  mind turned to the shape of the Conservative Party post-Brexit and who would lead us. Surely it had to be a Brexiteer who commanded trust and believed in the outcome?

We cast off from Windsor and within half an hour we were heading into the Maidenhead constituency. Steve was at the tiller and I was up front reading and dozing. He sounded the horn to get my attention and there, on the left hand bank was a big property with a sloping garden to the river. A European flag flew at half mast and in the garden was a hastily erected home made sign reading "YOU HAVE RUINED OUR COUNTRY". Directly opposite, on the other bank, an equally grand property had a giant Vote Leave poster in the garden alongside a Union Flag. Over the poster was a handwritten sign "EU LOST". 

I looked at this example of bravado with sadness and a sense of bemusement; two clearly wealthy, educated and successful neighbours, who as far as I know have lived happily facing each other for many years, were trading childish insults across the River Thames. Little did I know that this behaviour, intolerance and anger would define politics for the foreseeable future. This is the point I realised that I had to help in whatever way I could to help a pro-Brexit candidate win the leadership of the Conservative Party.  I phoned around my friends to take the temperature and having listened to the majority share my view about the debates, the need for a fresh face and a new start, I sent this text to Andrea Leadsom with a copy to High Wycombe MP, Steve Baker.

Andrea promptly replied to thank me, along with a standard holding response, which I expected. I then resolved to do my best to put politics, Brexit and intrigue aside and focus on my husband and our week together on the Thames. Politics is a demanding mistress. Our post-election holiday has always been cathartic for my own mental health after the stress of an election, and for our relationship which takes a bit of a battering during a campaign. Like most people involved in politics I couldn't do what I do without Steve's love, patience and support.

For a week my phone fell silent as we blissfully meandered west along the course of the Thames, stopping at our favourite towns and villages; Marlow, Henley, Abingdon, Oxford and then on towards Lechlade where the Thames turns into a narrow river through stunning countryside and |Cotswold stone hamlets and villages. Finally, on Saturday 2 July we reached Eynsham. Alongside the lock we noticed a sign for the Eynsham Carnival later that day and decided to go along.

We stopped for coffee en route and as we chatted my phone rang.  The name "STEVE BAKER" appeared on the screen. For those who don't know, Steve is one of the nicest and calmest people I know in politics; he is also one of the most ruthless Parliamentary organisers in the business. After exchanging pleasantries he asked, in his usual quiet and low-key way, if I was still "on board?"  "Yes, of course", I replied. "How can I help?"  "Well, there are may hurdles to jump and anything can happen over the next few days, but if Andrea gets through the MPs vote and makes the final two I would like you to come on board as her national Campaign Manager. This hasn't yet been confirmed with the wider team, but we are meeting later this afternoon. I just wanted to check you would be OK with that if it was formally offered."

I remember slumping back in my chair, rendered speechless by what I was being offered. When I had called Andrea a week earlier I thought I would, at most, be asked to help her in Kent. Perhaps call around my friends and contacts and organise a meet and greet. I never anticipated a national role, let alone running her campaign in the field.

My mind raced. No-one involved in politics at my level could fail to be flattered and excited at being asked to run a leadership campaign. But I was also very conscious that I had never worked on a national leadership campaign before, let alone run one, I wasn't convinced I knew what to do, or had the skills or capacity to deliver. I tried to articulate my concerns (fears!) to Steve Baker while not sounding ungrateful or negative.

The phone went silent for what seemed a long time. 

"Andrew, as an agent you have probably fought and won more elections than anyone else I know. You have an unmatched ability to communicate with our voters and turn them out to vote. And unlike a normal election, in this campaign you have a unique knowledge and understanding of those who will vote; our members. I see no reason why you shouldn't do it."

His argument was strong and factually correct, in fact it was exactly the same argument I deployed when trying to convince a reluctant member to stand as a councillor, but in this case the stakes were higher. We agreed to talk a few hours later once we had both had time to think and consider our positions.

As Steve and I walked to the Eynsham Carnival I resolved that, if appointed, I would treat this campaign as I would any other. Strip away the glamour, the media, the stakes and the prize, Andrea Leadsom was like any of the other 2,000 candidates I have worked for over the past 30 years, but instead of their being an electoral roll there was a membership list. My job, as always, would be to identify those who would vote for her, convince those who were unsure and then turn them out to vote. It's a remarkably simple process which others always tried to  make more complicated than it need be. 

And so, two hours later, standing in a damp field in Eynsham (ironically in David Cameron's constituency) and competing to make myself heard over the tannoy announcing the start of the vintage tractor parade, I accepted the offer to be Andrea Leadsom's campaign manager. Game on!

This is the first of four articles I will publish over the Christmas and New Year period about the 2016 Conservative leadership election. The next installment will be published on this blog on Thursday 27th December and will cover the campaign launch, the team, the infamous Leadsom for Leader march on Parliament and how I planned to deliver victory in the country. 

The third article (published Sunday 30th December) will cover the MPs final vote and Andrea's confirmation as one of two candidates going to the membership, the weekend commencing Friday 8th July (including the interview with Rachel Sylvester published on Saturday 9th July) and her withdrawal on Monday 11th July. 

And my final blog in this series (which I will publish on 4 January 2019) will cover the next campaign and the lessons learned. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Nothing to wine about!

Our incredibly cantankerous neighbour, who Cllr Paperclips and I refer to as "Victor Meldrew" due to his permanently miserable face and hostile demeanor, has just knocked on our office door. 

"Yes?" I said, suspiciously, expecting another of his long moans about the 1001 things we do to irritate him. He actually once sent me a rude note complaining that I had parked my car overlapping into the neighbouring parking bay by 2 cm (he had measured it) despite the fact the bay I had strayed into was also one of ours. Apparently I was "setting an overlapping precedent which, if not addressed, might cause similar issues with other tenants." 

 Anyway, rather than moan, he said "I have something for you, it's wine" and handed over what was clearly a box of wine. I was somewhat taken aback, this is the guy who when I once wished him "good morning" in the lift he actually replied "it was until you interrupted my concentration." I was a bit lost for words and started thanking him profusely for his kindness. In fact, I think I was a bit over profuse as I wanted to ensure he knew I appreciated his gesture and perhaps build a new, friendlier relationship next year. He stood listening to me, smiling and nodding, before saying - right, must go. I hope you enjoy it. And off he went back to his office. 

 I returned to me desk and then the horror dawned on me. On the box was a DHL courier label. The wine wasn't from him. It has been sent to us as a gift and one of his staff had taken delivery as Jon and I were out. He clearly knew I had misunderstood and was listening to me thanking him knowing the truth, and probably enjoying the situation. 

I now feel like banging on his door and withdrawing my gratitude and pleasantries ,but I wouldn't wish to give him the satisfaction! 

 Anyway - I am now the proud owner of two bottles of wonderful Chateau Miraval Rose, but absolutely no idea who they are from, as there is no delivery note or card in the box. If you are the sender THANK YOU but please text or email to to let me know, as I would like to send a note of thanks and also drink to your health and happiness when we open them over the Christmas holiday.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

West Kent's Calling Cards

For those who follow what we do in West Kent and have in interest in our campaign techniques, I am pleased to publish today samples of our 2019 local election calling cards (or Sorry you Were Out Cards as they used to be known).

I have not used "Sorry you were out" for many years now as I like our candidates to hand over the card on the doorstep while chatting, or leave through letterbox if the resident is out. 

Our new design leads with a high quality panorama of the ward. This same photograph is being used on the newsletter "banner", the VI/Residents' Survey, the main election leaflet and GOTV / GOTPV material, giving a sense of continuity and locality throughout the campaign. 

The back of the card has the candidate's photograph, contact details and three pledges. 

We have sourced the photographs through Alamy, Photobucket or, where there is no commercially suitable photograph available, we have asked our photographer to visit the ward to take one of our own.

I hope you like these examples: